The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department on Friday announced that the county has been awarded a conditional state grant of $56.3 million to build a new jail — but the journey to relieve overcrowding at the current facility in Santa Barbara is far from over.

That’s because in order for the new jail to be built, the county must pony up about $30 million of its own dough in capital costs, plus $12 million more in annual operational expenses, said 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, the board chairman.

These are lean times for the county government. Already this spring, the Board of Supervisors slashed $26 million worth of programs and services from the county’s $189 million general fund budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year.

“That doesn’t include the big whammy the state is going to give us as well,” Carbajal told Noozhawk on Friday, referring to the state budget, which the Lgislature must complete by June. “We are not in a good place, so coming up with the money for capital and for ongoing operations is not an easy endeavor in this current fiscal crisis.”

What’s more, he said, all of the money for the new jail — which would be located in Santa Maria — needs to come from the county’s depleted general fund. Already, nearly half of that money — $90 million — is dedicated to the Sheriff’s Department, Carbajal said.

Still, he added, “I remain cautiously optimistic.”

To be sure, the Sheriff’s Department fared admirably in a highly competitive process. Santa Barbara County, whose current jail is located at 4434 Calle Real, ranked fifth out of 14 large and medium applicant counties by the AB900 Construction Funding Grant Executive Steering Committee for Phase I funding.

A total of $650 million was awarded to large and medium counties, with a further $100 million awarded to small counties.

“I am extremely pleased that the state recognized our crucial need for a new jail and our continuing commitment to the successful re-entry of offenders,” Sheriff Bill Brown said in a statement. “We still have lots of work to do before the new jail is built, but this is a major step forward. I want to thank my staff and the other members of our multidisciplinary team for their outstanding work on developing Santa Barbara County’s proposal.”

image

Janet Wolf

Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf also praised the department in the news release.

“I am thrilled — though not surprised — that Santa Barbara’s well-thought out, comprehensive proposal was selected for full funding,” she said.

Carbajal said two major hurdles must be cleared to make the jail happen: coming to a favorable agreement with the state, and finding the funds.

“The voters twice have rejected taxing themselves,” he said. “I can’t buy a car before knowing we can make the payment.”

The AB900 grant funding process began in November. The proposal team included representatives of the Sheriff’s Department, county counsel, planning and development, general services, Treasurer’s office, CFO’s office, Auditor’s office, Assessor’s office and several expert consultants.

Click here for more information on AB900. Click here for more information on the county jail system.

— Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at rkuznia@noozhawk.com.